Saturday, July 21, 2007

Mirror, Mirror On the Wall

Body image is a funny thing. I wonder how many of us truly perceive our appearance in the same way as others see us. More to the point, I wonder how many of us are content with our body image.

Some people always think they are fat, even when they are so painfully thin that they are unhealthy. Clearly, that is disordered thinking. Yet plenty of others, especially women, are just never satisfied with their appearance, and don't seem to know exactly when to quit losing weight. After focusing on losing weight for so long, their imperfections are all they see when they look in the mirror.

On the other hand, some people always seem to carry a very positive self-perception, or at least a realistic one. Statistics say this is more likely to be the case with men.

I have experienced it both ways. I have had times of perceiving myself as both smaller and larger than I actually was, and I am working to adjust my perceptions to match reality.

I remember many years and many babies ago, in an earlier post-pregnancy weight loss effort, getting down to the weight I had set as my goal, yet thinking I needed to lose more off my hips and thighs. When I look back now at pictures, I can see that I was at a good weight, maybe even too slender in my upper body, but, yes, a little bigger on the bottom. I realize now I needed more toning, not more weight loss. In fact, had I worked out more, I probably could have carried a few more pounds very successfully. But, in truth, I will probably always have more than my fair share of curves in some places, so I might as well accept and enjoy that. I gave up the quest for ideal perfection years ago!

Even now, though, as I have lost weight, I have been surprised at the sizes I end up buying. I still tend to reach for clothing a size or two too big. I have gotten used to my bigger body in baggier clothes, and just can't quite wrap my mind around being small yet. But, I'm getting there!

But, the reverse was also true as the scale was on the way up. I would bruise my hips bumping into things, because I just did not realize I was that big! The pounds piled silently on while I wasn't watching.

I guess, for me, it is not a disordered body image, as much as it is lag time. Whether I am getting bigger or smaller, it takes a while for my mind to match the mirror.

For now, I can see myself much more objectively in a photograph than I can in the mirror. I suppose that is because I can remove myself a little farther from the moment, and take a 'big picture' view.

So, my 'reality check' is to wear clothes that fit, instead of being baggy, and to take more frequent pictures of myself, which is something I studiously avoided at my higher weights. The camera will be a more objective set of eyes than the ones looking back at me in the mirror.

For those struggling with body image, here is some helpful advice from Improving Body Image © by Judy Lightstone:

Developing a Healthy Body Image

Here are some guidelines (adapted from BodyLove: Learning to Like Our Looks and Ourselves, Rita Freeman, Ph.D.) that can help you work toward a positive body image:

1. Listen to your body. Eat when you are hungry.
2. Be realistic about the size you are likely to be based on your genetic and environmental history.
3. Exercise regularly in an enjoyable way, regardless of size.
4. Expect normal weekly and monthly changes in weight and shape
5. Work towards self acceptance and self forgiveness- be gentle with yourself.
6. Ask for support and encouragement from friends and family when life is stressful.
7. Decide how you wish to spend your energy -- pursuing the "perfect body image" or enjoying family, friends, school and, most importantly, life.

Think of it as the three A's....

Attention -- Refers to listening for and responding to internal cues (i.e., hunger, satiety, fatigue).

Appreciation -- Refers to appreciating the pleasures your body can provide.

-- Refers to accepting what is -- instead of longing for what is not.

Good advice!

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